The molecular process of World Revolution – Part Four

Latin America is in the vanguard of the process of world revolution. In Venezuela, where the masses have defeated reaction three times, the revolution is at a crossroads. The Cuban revolution is threatened and can only survive by spreading to the rest of Latin America, starting with Venezuela, but also moving on to countries such as Peru and Ecuador, and linking up with the Bolivian revolution, also at quite an advcanced stage.

(See Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart Five)

Latin America is in the vanguard of the process of world revolution. In Venezuela, where the masses have defeated reaction three times, the revolution is at a crossroads. The Cuban revolution is threatened and can only survive by spreading to the rest of Latin America, starting with Venezuela, but also moving on to countries such as Peru and Ecuador, and linking up with the Bolivian revolution, also at quite an advcanced stage. (August 2004)

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Latin America

Latin America is passing through the deepest crisis of its history. It is at present the most advanced region in the world from the point of view of the revolutionary movement. For the last five years the continent has experienced a growing economic, social and political crisis that has resulted in revolutionary events in several countries.

There is not a single stable bourgeois regime in Latin America. Mass strikes and movements, general strikes, the election of left governments, and in some cases insurrections and the beginning of revolutionary processes, have shaken all countries without exception. The general trend is towards revolution and those countries where the movement has not yet reached such an advanced stage are nevertheless moving in the same direction. Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina and Ecuador are the mirrors that reflect the future development of events in the whole of Latin America. Even in small and formerly more stable countries like Costa Rica and Honduras the capitalists system is in crisis and the labour movement on the offensive.

This is the result of a whole series of economic, political and social factors that have combined to create a highly volatile and explosive situation.

From an economic point of view the whole region has gone through a serious economic crisis in the 1997-2002 period. Bourgeois economic analysts have described this as the “lost half decade”. Production per capita is now 1.5 percent lower than in 1997. Half of the region’s countries have had a negative rate of growth throughout this five-year period (1997-2002), and the others have all stagnated after a period of rapid economic growth at the beginning of the 1990s.

The economic decline is clearly revealed in the following figures. After a period of growth in the 1960s, reflecting the upswing in world capitalism, the productive forces have at best stagnated in the last period. They have not come close to the kind of growth that was achieved in the past. As a result the living standards of millions of people have either stagnated or fallen:

 
Annual GDP growth   Growth per capita
     
1960s 5 percent+ almost 2.5 percent
1970s 6 percent more than 3 percent
1980s less than 2 percent negative
1999-2002 less than 1 percent about 0.5 percent

Open unemployment has now reached 9 percent according to official figures, which is the highest level in history. Obviously real unemployment and underemployment is much higher, approaching 60 percent of the active population in many countries. In the same period the number of poor in the region has increased by 20 million, with many countries having 50 to 70 percent of the population living under the poverty line (less than US$2 a day) and up to 30 percent living under extreme poverty (less than US$1 a day). In Ecuador, for instance, 15 percent of the population has been forced to emigrate to flee poverty.

But this is not simply a cyclical economic crisis, it is also, to a great extent, the direct result of the economic policies forced on these countries by imperialism and enthusiastically adopted by the local governments, representing a capitalist class completely dependent on imperialism.

In the whole of the continent we have witnessed an open struggle between European and US multinationals to take over control of utilities and natural resources. On the part of Spanish companies and banks this has been a process of re-colonisation of the continent, taking over banks, telephone companies, airlines, oil contracts, etc in Peru, Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, Ecuador, and elsewhere.

The region’s economies have also been left at the mercy of the vagaries of international capital markets. Thus, after the collapse of the South East Asian economies in 1998, foreign investment dried up. Just a few years ago Latin America received more than US$ 150 billion in foreign investment in one year. By 2002 that figure had gone down to less than US$ 35 billion. Net flow of capital in 2002 had been negative to the tune of US$ 41 billion. As a result a war of competitive devaluations started between countries in Latin America in order to maintain FDI flows. The successive devaluations of the Brazilian currency were the final straw that broke the back of the Argentinean economy. Devaluation did not save the Brazilian economy either. In the first half of 2003 Brazil saw its GDP shrink by 1 percent.

All these factors have combined to make the recessive cycle of 2001-02 the longest and deepest in the region for the last 15 years, and also we see an increased synchronisation of the economic cycle. Thus, while the 1994-96 crisis affected mainly Mexico and Argentina, and the 1998-99 crisis hit mainly the South American economies, the 2001-02 recession has affected the whole of the Latin American continent, that is, South America, Central America and the Caribbean and Mexico. The austerity and privatisation policies applied in the last 10 years have also left the region’s economies extremely weakened and less able to generate economic growth.

In 2002 the GDP of all the countries of Latin America registered falls, with an overall reduction of 0.6 percent in GDP, after a slight increase of 0.4 percent in 2001. These figures express a social catastrophe, since even in periods of growth, living standards have stagnated for the majority. Although there has been a recovery in the recent months, this does not mean a general improvement in living standards. The gulf between the classes has become an abyss. The class war has reached an unparalleled peak of intensity everywhere.

In Ecuador the masses tried to use the elections to force a change in economic policies and voted for candidates that promised everything to everybody in a typical populist fashion, Buccaram and Mahuad. But in every case once in power these bourgeois politicians dressed in populist clothes betrayed the expectations of the masses and faithfully followed the adjustment policies dictated from Washington. In both cases the masses, blocked on the electoral front moved on to mass mobilisations in the streets and overthrew both presidents, the latest one in the revolutionary events of January 2000.

Venezuela was one of the earliest instances in which the masses responded to austerity policies with mass mobilisations in 1989, after the Carlos Andres Perez government, elected with the hope of a return to the “golden days” of the 1970s, immediately applied an austerity package. The “Caracazo” uprising of February 1989 left thousands of people dead and created a deep crisis of legitimacy of the bourgeois political system from which the ruling class in Venezuela has not yet recovered.

In Argentina the masses successively put in power the Radicals, the Peronists and the centre-left FREPASO, but they all applied the same austerity policies. All these experiences have radicalised the movement and generalised the idea that only direct action in the streets can achieve change. There has been a general shift to the left in the continent and a general increase in the sharpness of class struggle. An important factor in this has been the realisation that the much-vaunted “neo-liberal” policies have completely failed in practice. They have failed even more spectacularly in those countries which applied them most thoroughly and that were considered as “model pupils” by the IMF, particularly Argentina.

Furthermore, in no country have the masses suffered any serious defeats. On the contrary there has been a string of victories in which the workers and peasants, with mass mobilisations in the streets and in some cases using insurrectionary methods have managed to overthrow governments and defeat privatisation plans. There has been a clear recovery of the confidence of the movement in its own strength.

In the political field, this process coincided with a deep crisis in the leadership of the labour movement and left wing organisations in most countries. Completely unable to understand the collapse of Stalinism in the Soviet Union after 1989 and the apparent success of capitalist economic policies in the early 1990s, the left wing and guerrilla leaders, trained in the Stalinist school of “Marxism-Leninism” completely abandoned any idea of social transformation and sold out the thousands of workers, peasants and youth that had put their hopes in these organisations. Thus we saw the conversion of the leadership of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua to free market policies and their involvement in all sorts of corruption scandals.

Former left wing leaders and intellectuals joined right wing governments and provided the capitalists with “intellectual” arguments against the workers’ movement. Two of the most extreme cases are those of Jorge Castaneda joining the right wing PAN government of Fox in Mexico and even staging a provocation against the visit of Fidel Castro to the Summit of the Americas; and former FMLN guerrilla leader Villalobos becoming an advisor to the right wing pro-imperialist government of Uribe in Colombia. Others plunged into charity work through the NGOs, in most cases playing a pernicious role, demobilising the masses and introducing reactionary ideas into the movement.

All sorts of reformist and counter-revolutionary ideas became popular amongst the “left” intelligentsia. Many moved towards “indigenismo”, promoting the idea that the way forward was a return to traditional Indian values, that the working class had been destroyed and could no longer play a progressive role, that the taking of power was no longer necessary, etc. The ideas of Marxism lost a great deal of authority, though in reality it was Stalinism that had shown its bankruptcy.

This inevitably had the effect of sowing confusion and demoralisation amongst the ranks of working class and left wing activists for a period. But as we explained at the time, the economic conditions of existence would push the mass of workers and youth into struggle once again. Because of the lack of any serious revolutionary alternative the masses have had to go through many distorted experiences in the last five years, but in all cases they have sought to fight to improve their conditions. This was a necessary process of learning which was made more difficult and painful because of the conduct of the leaders of the traditional organisations of the workers and peasants.

The general shift to the left has been expressed in the election of left governments or governments perceived to be leftwing by the masses in some countries (Lula in Brazil, Lucio Gutierrez in Ecuador, the recent electoral victory of the FMLN in El Salvador, the massive vote for Evo Morales in Bolivia, the victory of the left in the Colombian municipal elections, the defeat of Uribe in the referendum, etc). The problem is that these governments have very little room for manoeuvre and therefore the illusions of the masses in them are likely to be short lived.

The bourgeoisie of Latin America has had two hundred years to show what it can do. The results are clear for all to see: misery, hunger, backwardness, unemployment, the unbridled rule of corrupt and reactionary oligarchies. In most cases, they have not even carried out a real agrarian reform. Even the much-vaunted “independence” is a deception, since Latin America is dominated by US imperialism and the big North American transnational corporations.

On the basis of capitalism not one of the fundamental problems facing the workers and peasants of Latin America can be solved. The masses are instinctively opposed to imperialism, but the anti-imperialist struggle is entirely devoid of content unless it is firmly linked to the struggle against landlordism and capitalism. The Cuban revolution showed what is possible on the basis of a nationalised planned economy, despite its bureaucratic deformations. But the Cuban revolution cannot survive in isolation. Its destiny will be decided by the success or failure of the socialist revolution in the rest of Latin America, above all in Venezuela and Bolivia.

The whole of Latin America is in a revolutionary or pre-revolutionary ferment. Here we see the meaning of world revolution. Movements in one country have an impact on the movement of the workers and peasants in another. The conditions are such that once the workers take power in one country, the regimes would fall like dominoes. A decisive victory in any of these countries would completely transform the situation throughout the Americas and on a world scale.

Argentina

In December 2001 Argentina suffered the biggest default of any state in history. Overnight millions of people were reduced to poverty, and the savings of the middle class were wiped out. This led immediately to a popular uprising and the opening of a revolutionary process that is still continuing. But given the weakness of the subjective factor, the process is being drawn out, as we predicted.

We said that the bourgeoisie could not immediately resort to a counterrevolutionary coup but would instead make use of manoeuvres involving a “left” Peronist government. That is precisely what has happened. The purpose of the government of Nestor Kirchner is to gain the confidence of the masses in order the better to betray them to imperialism and the oligarchy.

The victory of Kirchner was entirely predictable – and was predicted by our tendency. But to the sects in Argentina this is a book sealed with seven seals. They completely misunderstood the stage the revolution was at and consequently adopted an entirely mistaken tactic in relation to the elections. As a result they were heavily defeated. Their members are confused and demoralised. They will not be able to play any important role in the revolution.

Nothing has been solved for Argentine capitalism. In 2002 there was a deep slump with an 11 percent fall in production. A formerly prosperous country has been converted into a poor country where people do not have enough to eat. It is true that this year the Argentine economy has achieved a high rate of growth. Some recovery was inevitable, just as an object that is thrown off a cliff will bounce. This may give a little breathing space to the regime, but it has resolved nothing fundamental. There are huge debts that have to be paid and nothing to pay them with. Sooner or later there will be another outburst of the class struggle.

Kirchner is a clever demagogue who has tried to get a “left” image by attacking the Junta. In fact, he is incapable of a serious struggle against imperialism. He talks of “restoring investor confidence” – which cannot be done without attacking the living standards of workers. But in the short run he has to take care not to alienate the masses. 70 percent of the population are opposed to using the country’s reserves to pay the IMF.

Kirchner is obliged to walk a tightrope between the classes. Sooner or later he will be knocked off it. Although the economy is now growing at about 5 percent, this is after a fall of at least 11 percent. Inflation is high and officially unemployment stands at 20 percent. However, this is a gross underestimate and more than 50 percent of the population are living below the poverty line. On a bourgeois basis there is no way out for the masses. The illusions in Kirchner will not be long lasting. The way will be prepared for new explosions.

The revolutionary process in Argentina is not finished. It will continue for some years, with ebbs and flows, before there can be a decisive conclusion – one way or another. Despite all the noise, the Kirchner government will be seen to have been only a temporary episode. In the last analysis, there can only be one of two outcomes – either the greatest of victories for the working class, or the biggest defeats.

Venezuela

Venezuela, together with Bolivia, is the country where the revolutionary process has gone furthest. In fact the revolutionary movement has already defeated reaction on two decisive occasions, during the April 2002 coup and during the December 2002 – January 2003 oil sabotage and lockout. Now we see the same thing repeated in the referendum campaign.

Here we see the enormous revolutionary potential of the masses. On three occasions the working people have defeated the counterrevolution. If Hugo Chavez was a Marxist he could have easily overthrown the corrupt and reactionary oligarchy and taken power. The conditions are extremely favourable. The counterrevolutionaries were demoralised after the defeat of the reactionary bosses’ lockout. The masses were aroused and confident. But yet again the opportunity was lost. Now the reactionaries are agitating for a referendum to get rid of Chavez.

US imperialism is terrified that Venezuela will go the same way as Cuba. This has not yet happened but it is entirely possible in the future. Despite their defeat in the referendum, the counterrevolutionary Venezuelan bourgeoisie, with the active support of the American embassy and the CIA is preparing for a new attempt. There is therefore no possibility of a compromise. Despite his conciliatory speeches, Chavez will find that the oligarchy is irreconcilable. He can be compelled to lean on the working class to strike blows against the reaction, in so doing he may end up going further than he intended.

The strategy of the counter-revolution is to bring down Chavez by one method or another. The defeat in the referendum was undoubtedly a heavy blow that will force them to make a tactical retreat for a time. But they will return to the attack later. The imperialists, who were forced reluctantly to accept the result, may change their tactics, but their fundamental aim will stay the same. They will strive to undermine the revolution and overthrow Chavez. They have not, and will not, abandon this aim.

The imperialists and their local agents can use different tactics. They can make use of a combination of economic sabotage in order to undermine support for Chavez, together with all kinds of counter-revolutionary provocations, including terrorist activities and international pressure (trying to present the Chavez government as “supporting terrorism”). They can try to provoke military hostilities between Venezuela and neighbouring Colombia. However, within Venezuela they are in a weak position. The social base of the opposition, having been defeated three times, is demoralised, divided and sceptical. At the same time, the state apparatus as an instrument of repression of the ruling class has been weakened.

On the other hand we see an advance in the process of the radicalisation of the masses, and particularly of the workers’ movement. The victory in the referendum will have enormously raised the self-confidence of the masses who will press for more reforms and wish the revolution to go forward.

The masses, and particularly the activists, are discontented with the old bureaucratic leadership and want to take control of the movement into their own hands. They want to keep the patrols and other rank and file organizations in being.

The Chavez government has a bourgeois-nationalist programme, that is, it wants to develop the country’s economy in the interests of the majority of the population, but thinks it can do so within the limits of capitalism. The problem is that this is a completely utopian proposition. There is no “progressive” section of the ruling class in Venezuela. In fact the whole experience of the last 5 years shows this very clearly. The capitalists and important sections of the middle class are against Chavez and on the side of imperialism, while the overwhelming majority of the workers and poor, and a small section of the petty bourgeoisie are on the side of Chavez. It is impossible to reconcile the interests of both sides and therefore the conflict has not been decisively resolved.

The most pressing task in Venezuela is to build the nucleus of a Marxist cadre organisation, able to fight for the leadership of the movement of the workers and the poor, on the basis of a firm policy of democratic workers power and a democratically planned economy. We can only do that by understanding clearly the character of the chavista movement and intervening energetically in it.

The Venezuelan Revolution and Cuba

The fall of the Soviet Union has transformed the international balance of forces concentrating colossal and unprecedented power into the hands of US imperialism. With colossal power comes colossal arrogance. Washington is trying to impose its will onto the whole world. The barbarous invasion and occupation of Iraq is a monstrous manifestation of this.

However, the capitalist crisis on a world scale manifests itself as a revolutionary crisis everywhere. This is clearly evident in Latin America where there is not a single stable bourgeois regime at the present time. The aggressive campaigns of US imperialism directed against Cuba and Venezuela are a reflection of this fact. The Cuban and Venezuelan revolutions are a point of reference for the oppressed workers and peasants of Latin America. That is why Washington is striving by all means to defeat and destroy them.

The Cuban revolution, which provided hope for millions of people, is threatened by external and internal enemies. The forces of capitalist restoration inside Cuba constitute the greatest threat to the revolution. They are backed by world imperialism, in particular by the USA and the European Union. It is necessary to fight against capitalist restoration in Cuba and defend the elements of the nationalized planned economy. However in the last analysis the only hope for the Cuban revolution is the victory of the socialist revolution in Latin America and on a world scale.

The danger of capitalist restoration in Cuba exists. It cannot be denied and it would be criminal to close one’s eyes to it. The danger comes from without – from the remorseless pressure of imperialism. This is clear to everyone. However, the danger to the Cuban revolution comes not only from without but from within. It is no secret that there are pro-capitalist elements in Cuba, and not only among the opposition. Far more dangerous is the phenomenon of bureaucracy that contains within it powerful pro-capitalist tendencies. We saw the same thing in Russia before the collapse of the USSR.

It is the elementary duty of all revolutionaries to defend the Cuban Revolution against imperialism and capitalist counterrevolution. The victory of the counterrevolution would be a heavy blow against the cause of socialism and the working class everywhere. For the people of Cuba it would be a terrible catastrophe. But it is necessary to see that the danger to the nationalized planned economy in Cuba comes not only from Washington and Miami but also from elements within the regime itself.

Fidel Castro, it is true, remains implacably opposed to capitalist restoration. As long as he lives, the pro-capitalist elements in the Cuban bureaucracy will be kept firmly under control. But what will happen when he is no longer present? How can the pro-Capitalist elements be defeated and the gains of the Revolution defended?

The only firm support for the Cuban Revolution is the masses, the workers and peasants who have remained loyal to the cause of the Revolution. By implementing the four conditions of Lenin – the principles of workers’ democracy – the Revolution would acquire new strength and energy to stand up to its enemies, internal and external. But in the last analysis, the only way to defend the Cuban revolution is to extend it to the rest of Latin America.

The conditions for the victory of the socialist revolution in Latin America are ripening fast. There is a ferment everywhere, and the main focus of revolutionary action is in the urban centers. The role of the working class is the key element in this equation. The Venezuelan Revolution shows the colossal power that exists in the working class. All the attempts of the counterrevolution have been defeated by the masses, the workers, the peasants, the urban poor, the women and the youth.

But the question of power has not yet been solved. Even after the marvellous victory in the Referendum, it is not correct to say that the revolution cannot be reversed. Imperialism and the oligarchy will never be reconciled to the Revolution. There will be new counterrevolutionary attempts – one after another.

The destiny of the Cuban Revolution is inseparably linked to that of the Venezuelan Revolution and will stand or fall with it. If the Venezuelan Revolution is defeated, the Cuban Revolution will be isolated and the pressures of imperialism will be multiplied a thousand fold. The victory of the counterrevolution in Venezuela would represent a deadly blow to the revolution throughout Latin America. It would place the Cuban revolution in extreme danger.

Those who argue that the Venezuelan Revolution must be halted, that it is necessary to negotiate with the bourgeoisie and imperialism, are betraying the Venezuelan Revolution, no matter what their subjective intentions are. There can be no truce between revolution and counterrevolution. Either one side or the other must win.

The Bolivarian revolution has begun as a national democratic revolution but it is meeting with the ferocious opposition of the Venezuelan oligarchy and US imperialism. Under modern conditions the unification of Latin America can never be achieved by the bourgeoisie, nor can democracy be consolidated on the basis of capitalism. Only the victory of the proletarian revolution can guarantee the gains of national democratic revolution and unification of Latin America. The Latin American revolution can only be carried out by the proletariat in alliance with the poor peasants and the other exploited layers under the banner of socialism.

The only way to defend the Cuban revolution is by fighting for the socialist revolution in Latin America, beginning in Venezuela. The Latin American revolution will triumph as a proletarian revolution or it will not triumph at all. It is the duty of the revolutionary Marxists to support with all of our energy and enthusiasm the anti-imperialist struggles of the people of Latin America, to arm it with the ideology, programme and policies of Marxism-Leninism and to transform it into and all-Latin American proletarian revolution. Our slogan is permanent revolution; our goal is the emancipation of the working class and of all humanity.

Peru and Ecuador

Peru has also experienced big strikes and demonstrations. The Toledo government is weak and may not last. The workers are demanding wage increases, while the government is raising taxes. The public sector debt stands at 47 percent of GDP. We can easily see another collapse as in Argentina.

The defeat of Fujimori’s Bonapartist regime was the direct result of the mass movement of the people, and the election of bourgeois politician Toledo was only the distorted expression of this movement. He actually stood in the election as an opponent of “neoliberalism” and played on his Indian and poor origins. But as soon as he tried to privatise electricity in the south of the country in June 2002 he was faced with a general strike which took on insurrectionary features, particularly in Arequipa, where the army and the police were not able to enter the city for more than a week. In this movement, the working class, through its organisations, played a key role and through the Civic Committees other sections were incorporated into the struggle. The movement was victorious and exposed to the masses the weakness of the Toledo regime and the fact that mass struggle was the only way to defeat it.

This mood led to the movement around the teachers strike in May/June 2003. This was no ordinary strike but reflected the deep crisis of legitimacy of the whole of the bourgeois political system in the country. The level of support of the president, the congress and the judicial system hit rock bottom, with only 13 percent of the population having any trust in these institutions. When the government tried to declare a state of emergency to crush the strike, the unions replied with a general strike and there were mass demonstrations all over the country. The movement ended in a partial victory for the teachers and a further weakening of the Toledo government, which is likely to fall in the next few months. The movement is still continuing, and we must follow it closely.

In Ecuador, after the revolutionary events of January 2000 and January/February 2001 we saw the election of Lucio Gutierrez at the beginning of 2003. This was not simply an election victory but the electoral expression of the revolutionary movement of the masses in the years prior to the elections which had been derailed because of the lack of a Marxist leadership. Lucio was the leader of the junior officers who sided with the people in the January 2000 revolution. He was elected in a very polarised election campaign in which all bourgeois parties joined forces against him and accused him of being an atheist and a Communist. Of course he is neither, but the fact that the masses voted for him despite this campaign against him is highly significant.

At the time we said that Lucio had two alternatives: if he sided with the workers and peasants he would clash with the capitalists and the IMF and a Chavez type situation could develop. However, if he sided with the ruling class and Washington he would soon clash with the workers and peasants who had elected him. The latter is what happened.

Six months into his presidency, he had signed an agreement with the IMF and had not even started addressing any of the urgent needs of the workers and peasants. First the MPD and the powerful peasants’ organisation which played a key role in the 2000 revolution, CONAIE, withdrew from Lucio’s government and announced a programme of mass mobilisations. The honeymoon period has been so short because the crisis of Ecuadorian capitalism is such that the ruling class can only maintain its profits by further increasing the exploitation of workers and peasants, and the margin for concessions is almost non-existent. But another important factor is that his election victory, rather than being the early stages of a shift to the left (as is the case with Lula in Brazil), comes after a series of revolutionary movements of the masses, who are no longer prepared to wait. In fact the opening lines of the statement of the Congress of the People, convened in August 2003 by the CONAIE and other trade union organisations reads precisely: “Enough is enough! We have waited for 6 months!” Sooner rather than later a new mass movement will overthrow him.

Bolivia – the revolution has begun

The revolutionary events in Bolivia in October mark one of the highest points in the revolutionary process in Latin America. The magnificent movement of the workers and poor peasants is an inspiration to the entire world. The uprising was the result of the accumulation of experience of the Bolivian workers and peasants during the last 3 years of struggle. The victory of the uprising against water privatisation in Cochabamaba in March/April 2000 marked the beginning of the recovery of the Bolivian workers and peasants movement, which had suffered a massive defeat in 1985/86. Since then we have seen the mass movement of the coca-growers, national road blockades on the part of the peasants, the movement of the pensioners in January 2003 and the February uprising this year.

All these movements have shown the extreme weakness of the ruling class in Bolivia, fragmented and split in the electoral field, with an unreliable state apparatus and completely dependent on US imperialism. One of the key elements of the February uprising against the tax proposals of the Sanchez de Lozada government was a police mutiny in which police officers fought together with the workers against the army. Had it not been for the leaders of the trade union and left organisations, the workers and peasants could have taken power at that time.

These three years of rich experience have also had an impact within the traditional organisations of the working class and the peasants. The Bolivian unions have replaced the previous pro-government right wing leadership by a more radical one representing the “anti-neoliberal bloc”. It was the miners’ federation (traditionally the backbone of the Bolivian workers’ movement) that played a key role in the election of a new, more left leadership of the COB in August. The new leaders of the COB, particularly its secretary Jaime Solares who comes from the miners’ federation, talk of workers and peasants government with a socialist programme, of workers’ defence militias, and so on.

This is a reflection of the radicalisation of the mood amongst the masses but also an expression of the Trotskyist traditions of the Bolivian workers’ movement. But radical and even “Marxist” sounding speeches do not guarantee victory on their own, on the contrary they can often lead to defeat. During the October uprising it was precisely the vacillation of these leaders in the decisive moments that allowed the ruling class to sacrifice president Sanchez de Lozada and put another bourgeois politician, Mesa, in his place.

The importance of the October movement is that it clearly posed the question of power. In El Alto, the workers and the people formed embryonic soviets in the form of Juntas Vecinales (neighbourhood juntas), there was an appeal to form self defence committees, sections of the police fraternised with the demonstrators and even within the army there were soldiers who refused to fire on the people. For a few days there was a struggle between the president, who was suspended in mid-air, and the workers and peasants who had real power in the streets. Despite all the claims of the “left” intellectuals, once again it was the working class through its organisations, and particularly the miners who played the key role in the uprising. All other sections in society look to the trade union organisations for a lead.

The movement has not been defeated, only temporarily derailed. The new government of Mesa has no room for manoeuvre and sooner rather than later will face a new uprising. At a certain stage the ruling class will have to put some of the workers’ and peasants’ leaders in government. Evo Morales and his Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) are the leading candidates to play this role. However, this will not be a normal left government, but one which will be under heavy pressure from below and from which the masses will not tolerate any shifts to the right.

The idea of a Constituent Assembly put forward by some of the left leaders (and some of the ultra-left sects) will probably be used by the ruling class to try to solve the crisis of legitimacy of its regime.